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Quebec's influence on the wane

 

TIM WHARNSBY

 

From Monday's Globe and Mail

 

June 22, 2008 at 7:53 PM EDT

 

OTTAWA — In the end, 27 players from the QMJHL were selected in the seven rounds of the 2008 NHL entry draft, and that was in line with the average of 26.7 chosen in the seven previous drafts.

 

But when the QMJHL was shut out in the first round on Friday, alarm bells went off in supposedly hockey-mad Quebec. This had happened before, with the most recent occurrence in 2000, but when a prime-time national television audience watches seven of the first 10 players, 11 in total, selected from the OHL and nine from the WHL, the QMJHL was left red-faced.

 

The lack of production may signify that Quebec hockey is on the cusp of a crisis. The Montreal Canadiens are fashionable again, and the all-sport French television network RDS smashed all sorts of records with millions of viewers in the Habs' run to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey concedes the province needs to step back and study the situation.

 

“We're usually under scrutiny to take kids from Quebec,” Gainey said. “But I think in the past two or three years there has been information that has surfaced that says there just aren't as many players coming from Quebec as comparative to the past or other places.”

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Of the 27 players selected from the QMJHL, 19 are from Quebec, two are Europeans, five are from the Atlantic provinces and one from Ontario. When the Detroit Red Wings made Julien Cayer of Longueuil, Que., a fifth-round selection – he plays for Northwood Prep in New York – that gave La Belle province an even 20.

 

“I think it's simple evidence that it's just the way it is,” Gainey said. “I don't have any hard-core facts as to why it's the way it is, but it's clear this needs to be looked at.”

 

Off the top, there are several factors that may have contributed to Quebec's decline in top end talent. The QMJHL nearly doubled its size, to 18 teams in 2004 from 10 teams in 1969, and the minor hockey base couldn't keep up, even though the QMJHL opened its doors to the Atlantic provinces and that area has flourished with players such as Brad Richards of Murray Harbour, PEI, and Sidney Crosby of Cole Harbour, N.S.

 

There also is the fact that Montreal, the province's most populated area, has been without a QMJHL franchise since the Montreal Rocket left in 2003, and the franchise was only there for four years. The absence of a stable junior franchise in Montreal, as well as the city's diverse ethnic makeup, has hindered minor-hockey enrolment in the area.

 

QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau believes the transfer of the St. John's franchise, which will become the Montreal Junior Hockey Club in the fall, to the Montreal suburb of Verdun will help the cause.

 

“That's going to help because every city where we have been, the amount of minor-hockey participation has increased,” Courteau said. “But there is no doubt that there are lots of people from different nations that don't play hockey [in Montreal]. We need work better hand in hand with the Quebec branch [of hockey].”

 

Gainey would like to see an in-depth study done to identify issues that confront the province. He promised the Canadiens will perform a leading role. Already the NHL club administers the Learn, Respect and Fun program, in which thousands of minor-hockey players sign a contract with the Habs, pledging to learn the rules of the game, to abide by principles of sportsmanship, respect for teammates, opponents and officials and to have fun playing the game.

 

“We are in a place that as part of a coalition or group to say, ‘Here's where we are and how do we need to get more kids playing and more ice available?'” Gainey said. “I don't really know what the problem is. I would hazard that the problem is multilayered.

 

“Before you forge off in any direction, you need to get a solid idea of what the landscape looks like. That would be the first step, getting people together to look at this. The Montreal Canadiens could play a role. The sport ministries could play a role. Former players who grew up in Quebec could play a role.

 

“There is no reason why the sport can't be reconfigured, and the Canadiens naturally should play an important and leading role.”

 

http://www.globesports.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080622.nhl-draft23/GSStory/GlobeSportsHockey/home

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I don't think income is it, people don't have the time to friggin wake up at 4am to bring their kids at morning practices... people have less time and less dedication for these things.

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Family sizes could be a factor; video games and laziness too. Twenty years ago, when I was growing up in suburban Quebec City, my neighbourhood friends usually had three, four, even five older or younger brothers, and usually they all played hockey. It was common to have four family members playing hockey, handing down equipment and skills, playing three games of street hockey at once (on a street where there were maybe 15 houses). Every second house had a backyard ice rink, and dad's really got involved. Mom's did too (waking up to make breakfast, cleaning the equipment). I remember how our parents would all sit together at the arena. There was a real sense of community and sportsmanship. Now, I go down that street on a nice winter afternoon and nobody is playing street hockey. I talk to the old neighbours and they tell me the families that are there now have one, two, (rarely) three kids. Neighbours don't talk to each other, everyone has their own stuff, so there's no sharing. Times have changed.

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